Anita Sarkeesian has become central figure of a video game firestorm over her feminist calls for changes to the industry to better represent women in games and to treat women better within the industry itself. There's been a backlash, and a backlash against the backlash and then there's GamerGate, which these days appears to be an argument about what GamerGate is actually about and both sides accusing each other of harassment and very little discussion about games.
While those folks all yell at each other on Twitter and try to get each other's accounts suspended, the game industry spins on. This week is the annual E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where the industry gets together to announce and promote upcoming games (typically sequels of previous games). It's full of glitzy previews and talk shows and product demonstrations. It's like Fleet Week for video games or something.
Last night the presentations began, and software company Bethesda (best known for their Elder Scrolls and Fallout series) previewed their many offerings. Here's what Sarkeesian tweeted about a new installment of the game Doom, the iconic game that pretty much helped launch the entire genre of first-person shooters:
First of all, this all sounds like something that would come out of the mouth of right-wing moral video game panic alarm siren Jack Thompson (which Ken "Popehat" White has noted on Twitter. Correction: The observation was actually from Patrick, not Ken.).
But here's what concerns me about what Sarkeesian is saying. It doesn't bother me at all that Sarkeesian and her allies are pushing for better representation of women (or others) in video games. There's actually plenty of evidence to show that gamers will (and do) support games that present women in positions of strength and control and are not treated as sex objects and/or victims. It also doesn't bother me that she wants games that aren't drenched in violence and bloodshed. More and more game companies have awoken to the possibility of alternatives. Indeed, one of the games promoted by Bethesda in this very conference, Dishonored 2, will allow players to complete the storyline without killing anybody. (She responded to Dishonored 2 by complaining that the player will get to choose between a male and female lead rather than just having a female lead)
These tweets indicate exactly why there's such a backlash against her. This is culture war as a zero-sum game. These tweets present the idea that either we have violent games or non-violent games, not both (or some gradiation of "acceptable" violence). These are not tweets that present video game culture as a marketplace where consumers call for games that they enjoy and the market responds with a selection of choices to meet everybody's entertainment desires. This is specifically a call for Sarkeesian's game demands to be met, while the demands of other gamers are to be ignored or rejected and their desires attacked.
And this is where I part ways with Sarkeesian's efforts, and why I generally don't have much to say about the whole GamerGate culture war. The game industry is big. It is humongous. It can make games that appeal to just about everybody. But they are not going to be the same games. Sarkeesian presents a false choice, that there are right games and wrong games, rather than acknowledge that games, like movies, books, and television shows, are all for different audiences. Furthermore, she actually doesn't want games to appeal to certain audiences, and that's exactly why this culture war spins on.
Doom can exist in the same world as Dishonored 2. It is not an either/or prospect. Don't complain that Game X isn't what you want it to be. Push for a Game Y that does meet your entertainment desires.